What do Palestinians Want?
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 War and, as with so many events in the Israel-Palestine conflict, the anniversary will be commemorated in very different ways.
For the Palestinian people, it is a stark reminder that five decades have passed since Israel began its occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. By contrast, the State of Israel will celebrate this anniversary especially with much focus on a “united” Jerusalem.
Not everyone in Israel will support his or her government’s narrative. Some in Israel such as “Save Israel, Stop the Occupation” will be protesting and making the point that the Occupation risks Israel’s “future as a Jewish democratic State”.
Western media will no doubt focus on these Israeli aspects of the story, basing their coverage primarily on the question: “What do Israelis want?” or “What is best for Israel?” The question “What do Palestinians want?” has never been the primary consideration of Western nations. In fact, through the many stages of international agreements, Palestinians have continued to end up with less and less.
This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the British Mandate and the 70th anniversary of the UN “Partition of Mandatory Palestine.” The UN General Assembly adopted the Partition Plan on November 29, 1947 as resolution 181. The resolution recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states and special international governance for the city of Jerusalem.
The Partition Plan envisioned that the Palestinian State would consist of 43% of the historic Palestinian homeland. By the 1990s with the Oslo Accords, the PLO agreed to accept 22% of historic Palestine. Today under the Israeli Occupation, in “Area A” (comprising less than 20% of the West Bank), Palestinians are allowed to “administer” what are largely the separate cities on the West Bank. The segments of “Area A” are not contiguous nor do they form a viable basis for an independent state. The majority of the land in the West Bank is under Israel’s control and administration.
Following the 1967 War the UN Security Council approved UN Resolution 242 and following the 1973 war it approved Resolution 338. These resolutions continued the concept of a two state solution and in 242 called for the withdrawal of Israeli military from occupied territories.
It was UN action that set the framework for the creation of the State of Israel. However, it never succeeded in establishing a Palestinian State as it envisioned. Therefore, Palestinians continue to appeal to the UN to act on their behalf to end the Occupation and to insist on recognition of their state and their rights under international law.
Recently, all 100 US Senators signed a letter to the UN General Secretary protesting UN action that they described as “continuing to target Israel”. This unfortunate action, fails to recognize the UN’s role in the establishment of Israel and therefore its special obligation to set parameters that also respect the long neglected rights of Palestinians. It is not the UN that is at fault, it is Israel that has failed to end the Occupation and failed to respect the rights of Palestinians.
Since the time of the ‘67 War, churches in the United States have held up UN resolution 242 as embodying basic principals for peace and justice for both people. In 1980, as a culmination of an extensive three-year study process, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA adopted a comprehensive Middle East Policy that supported both Israel and the “right of national self-determination for Palestinians and of their right to select their own representatives and to establish a Palestinian entity, including a sovereign state.” Despite criticism and political pressures, church networks through the decades have been among the most committed advocates seeking justice and respect for human rights for both people.
Now 50 years after the 1967 war, East Jerusalem and the West Bank remain occupied. During these five decades Israel has acted to change the facts on the ground with the enormous growth of settlements, as well as other forms of encroachments and brutality on Palestinian life, property, and resources.
It is clear that Israel’s current government is opposed to a Palestinian State. Some of Israel’s leadership openly advocate for annexation of “Judea and Samaria” and have proposed legislation to initiate annexation. However, for a vocal minority of Israelis, the occupation is not sustainable and must end.
After 50 years, the world can no longer wait for the Israeli government to have a change of heart. The time has come for the world to end the occupation and to recognize Palestine as well as to create a framework to finalize borders and other “final status” issues.
The time has come (long overdue) to ask “What do Palestinians want?” and for the world to recognize and support the Palestinian right to national self-determination.
This month the “Peace Doers” blog has asked several thoughtful Palestinians to share their aspirations for Palestine. Watch for their posts in the coming weeks.
For fifty years we have heard from the peace talkers…now it is time to support “Peace Doers….building a future for Palestine”!
Blog coordinator and co-leader of the annual Leadership Program in Bethlehem